Crunch time for Herbert
The new A-League season is a golden opportunity for Ricki Herbert to show how tactically shrewd a coach he really is.
Off-field problems in the lead-up to today's opening game against Gold Coast United should be extra motivation for him to prove what he's capable of with a group already written off in many quarters.
Unlike the World Cup with the All Whites, though, Herbert won't be able to rely on a sole individual like Ryan Nelsen to dictate every turn.
Instead, he's going to need a larger group of experienced players to buy into the way he wants the Phoenix to play.
The key will also be his ability to get new signings to fit immediately into the system and the culture of the team.
Of the few new boys, Spaniard Dani Sanchez, is vital to the Phoenix's hopes of getting back into the play-offs. But just how quickly he finds his feet in the A-League will be interesting.
Star imports in the league always go one of two ways – they're either incredible or prove to be massive flops.
Reading between the lines, the jury is still out on whether Sanchez will be a success. Herbert thinks he'll bring "a little bit of X-factor", while the experienced Tim Brown has been quoted as saying: "He is not flashy and will not light things on fire but has lots of ability."
With no Marco Rojas this season the Phoenix actually needs Sanchez to set things afire.
Aussie Nick Ward is a very good signing. I played beside him briefly during the A-League's inaugural season. He was outstanding as a youngster that season and has shown glimpses of getting back to that consistency during the last couple of seasons.
Kiwi Cameron Lindsay is the other new boy who is an interesting signing. But is it simply a "tick the box" by Herbert to meet the A-League's young player requirements?
Despite a couple of years in Blackburn Rovers' academy system Lindsay failed to inspire at the Under-20 World Cup, starting only one of New Zealand's three games.
I hope I'm wrong but I struggle to see him making an impact in the A-League.
Danny Hay is a former All Whites skipper.